Cell Phones in Classrooms

This is an essay I wrote on 2014-11-17 for EDF 6155: Lifespan Human Development & Learning, a graduate class at University of Central Florida.

Richard Thripp
EDF 6155 Module 6 Discussion Post, “Research”
17 November 2014

Cell Phones in Classrooms — Richard Thripp
Richard Thripp
Research Topic: Cell Phones in Classrooms

Article 1: Baker, W. M., Lusk, E. J., & Neuhauser, K. L. (2012). On the use of cell phones and other electronic devices in the classroom: Evidence from a survey of faculty and students. Journal of Education for Business, 87(5), 275-289. doi:10.1080/08832323.2011.622814


This study investigated the perceptions of college students and faculty regarding cell phone, laptop, and MP3 player usage in the classroom. The research questions involved assessing these perceptions and whether they differed between students and faculty members, and by demographic characteristics. A questionnaire with 55 questions was distributed to students and faculty in three universities—one (each) in New York, North Carolina, and Texas. 978 completed surveys were received, of which 882 were from students and 96 from faculty members. 85.9% of the students were undergraduates and 14.1% were graduate students. Most of the students and faculty were from business programs. There were about 60% males, 40% females, and most faculty were over 40 while most students were under 23.

The questions entailed multiple-choice and Likert scale responses to questions mainly about what is appropriate in the classroom, device usage patterns of the subjects. Students were found to be much more accepting and open to technology use in the classroom compared to faculty. Graduate students were less welcoming of laptop usage in the classroom, and males were generally more accepting of technology usage than females. Students used their cell phones far more than faculty, but faculty spent more time on computers, perhaps related to their work. Both groups highly disapproved of MP3 player use in the classroom, while cell phones were much more accepted. While students agreed that no devices should be allowed to be used during exams, they were very much against having to turn in their cell phones during exams.

Article 2: Maguth, B. M. (2013). The educative potential of cell phones in the social studies classroom. Social Studies, 104(2), 87-91. doi:10.1080/00377996.2012.655347


This article examines findings from studies regarding usage of cell phones in social studies classrooms, and suggests applications of text messaging as a participation tool in the classroom. While not explicitly defined, it appears Maguth is focusing on junior high and high school students from his frequent mention of teenage youth and their habits. Research indicates that social studies are particularly uninteresting or ill-presented for many students, and thus the author proposes integrating text messaging as a tool for looking up information, receiving student feedback, and instructor announcements. Three web services are suggested, specifically for being free, user-friendly, and having educative potential (according to the author): Google SMS, Joopz, and PollEverywhere.com, which allow students to request information by text message, teachers to send announcements to students, and teachers to conduct interactive, live polls via text or Twitter message in the classroom, respectively. Research shows that text messaging has greatly increased in popularity, especially among youths—for this reason and others, Maguth argues that effective teachers must integrate cell phones for effective student learning and a “fun, relevant, and engaging” classroom experience.

Summary of Findings:
Topic: Cell Phones in Classrooms

A message from both articles is that younger people favor technology more—this is revealed in the permissive attitudes toward cell phone and laptop usage among college students compared to faculty (Baker, Lusk, & Neuhauser, 2012), and in the observation that secondary schools typically ban cell phones, even though students want to be able to use them (Maguth, 2013). Both articles cited studies finding that mobile devices disrupt learning when they are intrusive or disruptive, but found that silent usage can be useful and educational, such as when it involves note-taking or looking up relevant information. Further, Maguth proposed that technology activities can be made part of the lesson plan and lead to positive results.

Baker et al. (2012) focused on college student and faculty perceptions through self-reports, as an investigation of what different people find acceptable, annoying, or disruptive, and their usage habits themselves. They found that students approved of cell phone and laptop usage in many more situations than faculty, though it could not be discerned whether this was a function of age (younger or older) or rank (student or faculty) since these variables could not be manipulated or separated. Maguth (2013) presented opinions about the role cell phones should play in the public school classroom, and detailed three SMS (short message service, also known as text messaging) services that can be put to use by the instructor for student polls, distribution of announcements, and web searches. A compelling argument for using text messages rather than email is that the percentage of teenagers using text messaging to contact friends outside of school on a daily basis increased from 27 to 54 between 2006 and 2009, while other mediums have remained flat or, in the case of email, significantly declined (Lenhart, 2009, as cited in Maguth, 2013, p. 88). However, a large barrier to entry in secondary school is that parental consent is required to collect student phone numbers and send them text messages—one reason for this is that billing charges may be incurred (Maguth, 2013, p. 89).

In general, determining appropriate use of technology and enforcing rules is a formidable challenge—this is shown in both articles by the recurring theme of disruptive off-task usage of mobile devices. However, both articles conclude that an outright ban on cell phones is an inferior solution (except during exams), both because there are legitimate and helpful uses of cell phones in class, and because “digital natives” (operationally defined by Baker et al. as individuals under the age of 25) view cell phones as an extension of themselves, unlike older individuals. Therefore, prohibiting cell phone usage can have negative implications for a student’s affect and instructor perceptions, though both articles recommend setting rules and policies to limit unhelpful usage (Baker et al., 2012; Maguth, 2013).


I was surprised to learn about Google SMS and had not used or heard of this service before. One can use it to send messages to Google requesting information such as stock prices, definitions of words, maps, etc. The reason I find this particularly enticing is because my phone has limited data access which does not work much of the time (I am not sure if my phone is defective or if it is due to having Metro PCS as a carrier, which is a low-cost, budget carrier). However, I can send and receive unlimited text messages and have no problems doing this unless I am in certain buildings or rural areas.

A significant problem with research in this area is the fast pace of technological development. Cell phone usage habits among teenagers and emerging adults are constantly changing due to new applications (“apps”) being deployed and gaining popularity, and due to new phones with new or improved capabilities being released. Thus, the information in these articles already feels dated—consider for example that Baker et al. (2012) set out to survey opinions on usage of cell phones and “other electronic devices,” but completely omitted tablet computers. In 2014, I would consider tablet computers in the classroom to be much more relevant and important than MP3 players. Another problem is classifying and considering different devices in the same category—a laptop computer with a 17.3” screen can be far more disruptive than one with an 11.6” screen, for instance, but Baker et al. gave no notice to this factor. Thus, scholarly research of the impact of mobile devices requires a faster pace than most other fields.

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